Let’s talk symptoms.
What is a symptom? I’d love it if you would pause here a moment and really think about what experiencing symptoms means to you (upset stomach, a headache, fatigue, any old ache or pain, etc), and how you deal with them.
Symptoms are your body’s way of communicating with you, indicating that something requires your conscious attention. It is your body saying, “Pay attention to me! Pay attention to this part over here! Something in this particular system, or that body part, isn’t working so well today!” And if you ignore this communication, well then, gosh, you’re not being a very good conversationalist, now are you!
It’s important to dialogue with our bodies. …Because we are not in fact separate from our bodies. This makes talking about “them” (ourselves!) in this way rather silly, but makes the point easier to get across. We do tend to treat our bodies as extra things, or trusty vehicles (which they are in a sense) that should carry us through no matter what, and should perform with remarkable reliance and resilience as we run them into the ground (which is an unreasonable request of any vehicle).
Would you drive your car hard for 16 or 17 hours every single day on the cheapest fuel available, without ever replacing parts as you go, and without allowing it an occasional tune-up? Would you be surprised and frustrated if something went wrong with your car in this scenario? Probably not.
Most people in this culture treat their cars better than they treat their own bodies.
How often do you take your body for a tune-up? Going to the doctor with a complaint in hopes of a quick fix is not a tune up – that is an attempt to silence a symptom without acknowledging its message, and in most cases, involves only a band-aid rather than a real solution. A tune-up means checking in with your body for the sake of seeing what might be going on that you hadn’t noticed, investigating any symptoms present in hopes of uncovering their root cause, and keeping things in good working order. A tune-up means paying attention with prevention in mind.
Preventative health care: you’ve heard of this and understand what it means, but how many actually practice it?
It’s so much easier to maintain good health than it is to struggle to get back to good health once you’ve lost it.
So back to symptoms and car analogies!
If you’re driving in your car and your engine light comes on, would you:
a) take it in to the shop to have it checked out
b) stick a piece of black electrical tape over it
c) smash that light in with a hammer! Now it can NEVER go on again and freak you out!
Guess which is the best answer, and then guess what most people do when it comes to their personal skin-bound vehicles. We tend toward band-aid solutions (black tape!) in this culture, and worse, sometimes we take more drastic measures (hammers!) that prevent the body from ever trying to convey that particular message again (for example, surgical removal of body parts).
Symptoms are messages from your body, telling you what’s going on. It is wise to pay attention to them, to interpret them, investigate them, and respond appropriately to them.
When we treat problems “symptomatically”, it means we are trying to get rid of that symptom alone, without investigating the bigger picture of why that symptom is occurring. This approach is about making that voice or message be quiet, without ever “listening” to find out what’s really wrong.
The body is very efficient at maintaining balance and keeping things running. It can deal with a lot on its own, without you ever consciously knowing about it. If you have a symptom, then there is a problem somewhere that needs your conscious attention. It may be simple to deal with if you are paying attention at the first signs of distress. Often your body is saying, “I don’t like this particular thing you’ve been doing. Will you please stop?” or “I liked when you were doing that particular thing and now you’ve stopped doing it – I needed that so will you please get back to it?”
If you ignore this early warning and thereby allow the problem to worsen, then your body needs to “raise its voice” in attempt to be heard, and now you have a more dramatic symptom that is soon shouting, with increasing volume, “I said I DON’T like it when you do that. Will you please STOP!”
And if you ignore that too, your body may say, well that didn’t cut it, so let’s try out something new that will surely catch their attention! And now you have NEW symptoms that you may think came “out of the blue”, but which surely did not.
And before you know it your body is shrieking and you may feel overwhelmed and frustrated and scared and not sure what to do.
It’s okay. Start with the basics. What is your body saying? Where? What have you been doing? (Have you been working too hard? Have you been eating garbage?) What have you not been doing? (Have you not been sleeping? Have you stopped exercising regularly again?)
The take away message is this: symptoms are valuable. They are important messages that must be listened to in order to maintain health and prevent illness. How wonderful to be told that Something is only starting to hurt you, so that you can prevent what could be if you were to continue with that Something.
Might I suggest a hearty, “THANK YOU, BODY, FOR BEING SO AWESOME!” and maybe a hug for yourself, along with a renewed commitment to take care of your incredible, intelligent, and very patient vehicle.
Stay self-loving and self-aware, friends!